Brew-haha: Starbucks at Disney World?

Many Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) traditionalists aren't happy about it, but the family entertainment giant has gone ahead and opened a Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX  ) smack dab in the middle of Main Street U.S.A. at its popular Magic Kingdom theme park in Florida.

To be fair, Starbucks and Disney did go out of their way to make sure that the new coffee shop confines to the throwback nature of Main Street's charm, where barbershop quarters and horse-drawn trolleys take guests back in time as they enter Florida's most visited gated attraction. Ornate ceramic plates decorate the walls. Employees are trading in the modern Starbucks barista garb to don the traditional Main Street uniforms. Even the sign at the front of the store is the more retro depiction of the twin-tailed siren that Starbucks originally featured.

It all seems to fit in, but Disney blogs and discussion boards are alive with dissent.

"I don't think Walt would like this," writes a YouTube viewer. "This was supposed to remind him of his hometown. What were they thinking?"

Let's nip the accusations of caffeinated blasphemy in the bud. Walt Disney himself was no stranger to corporate handouts. The Mickey Mouse maven has resorted to brands to bankroll attractions dating back to the company's pre-Disneyland days. It was Pepsi that presented It's a Small World at the 1964 New York World's Fair, and then Bank of America sponsored the attraction when it opened at Disneyland two years later. Visitors to the building that has housed Magic Journeys, Captain EO, and Honey I Shrunk the Audience at Epcot have been treated to a Kodak-backed pre-show film that can be mistaken for an infomercial. Look closely and several Disney World attractions have corporate presenters.

Starbucks also isn't the first mainstream brand being brought into its parks by name. McDonald's struck a deal years ago to get its French fries into some kiosks and restaurants. The deal even carried over into Disney characters finding their way into Happy Meal toys. There may certainly be some concerns about children consuming caffeinated beverages, but fried unhealthy products promoted by a chain with a clown for a mascot is somehow more acceptable than Starbucks?

Purists will argue that the problem here is that Starbucks decided to replace the iconic Main Street Bakery on a street where Disney pioneers are honored with their names on second-story windows. However, I remember when the penny arcade building really was a throwback penny gaming arcade and when the storefront with the theater marquee actually played clips of old Disney features instead of trying to sell trinkets. 

Things change. It's not always for the better, but Disney's theme park decisions often weigh nostalgia against moves that will improve the entertainment giant financially. Critics won't like it, but with ticket prices inching higher again last month and the park posting record attendance, it's hard to argue against Disney's judgment.

Disney's making a lot of money, and now it will be making latte money.

It's a small world after all
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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2013, at 7:53 PM, sacaudio wrote:

    having been a contractor for Disney for over 20 years, I am dissapointed with this decision. I think Walt would be turning over in his grave right now, with all that corporate Disney has done, Starbucks would definitely cause another upset in his stomach. Walt was about quality. I remember my first trip to Disneyworld in 1971. That is where it should be now! Wholesome, Quality, and all about family.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2013, at 12:32 PM, Ghkramer wrote:

    While I understand that Disney corporate doesn't want to miss an opportunity to add to its bottom line, are we as consumers not responsible in part for this? Starbucks has built a solid company with stores seemingly at every turn beckoning us to have another latte made to order using Starbucks venacular and wouldn't it be nice sipping one as I traverse the happiest place on earth? This may be more responding to consumer desire than corporate coziness.

    Corporate sponsorship of exhibits is and has always been all over Disneyland (GE Carousel of Progress, Journey through Inner Space presented by Monsanto, Goodyear Peoplemover, etc). Disney was a brilliant visionary and shrewd businessman who provided an escape to all who come to this happy place. Obviously and gratefully, he insisted on quality and promoted family, but corporations were partners who had to conform to the standards of the head mouse. I think it might not be a stretch to envision him consuming a fine Starbucks beverage as he gazed upon the crowd and I see very little difference between labeling the store Starbucks directly, or calling it Main Street Bakery presented by Starbucks.

  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2013, at 4:43 PM, akosloski wrote:

    Kramer4112, I couldn't agree with you more. I was just in Disney a few weeks ago, while the store was in construction. I walked passed it twice before noticing the sign above my head. This is not the first corporation on Disney property, nor will it be the last. The first commenter was correct in saying that Walt Disney was all about quality. That saying, have you ever had Disney property coffee?

    Disney asked Starbucks to come in and work with them. They have not outed the Main Street Bakery, that still exists. They will be selling Starbucks coffee alongside the regular bakery items. They have done a wonderful job blending into the ambiance of Main Street, and I look forward to the next time I visit, and being able to see the final result.

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